MOUNT GILEAD — Morrow County Dog Warden, Sarina Atwell is brimming with enthusiasm for the training program she oversees with Marion Correctional Institution. This August marks the first anniversary for the program that pairs prisoners at MCI with dogs from the Morrow County Dog Shelter.
Atwell finds that the dogs she sends to MCI are more easily adopted because they are trained and have proven themselves able to get along with people and other dogs. Prison dogs are obedience trained, house and crate trained and they learn how to properly walk on a leash.
“We do our best to see that a dog is placed where they can excel,” Atwell said. “The prison training is a huge adoption advantage.”
Prison staff member Kathy Hamilton said that the program is also beneficial for prisoners. She reports that MCI’s dog program allows offenders to learn a skill set, reinforces positive behaviors for the offenders and gives the offenders something constructive to do during the course of their day.
So far this year, 185 dogs have been taken in at the Morrow County shelter with 350 dogs taken in last year. This number includes both dogs that are “surrendered” by owners and stray dogs. The prison program has added to the number of adoptions at the shelter and also to the revenue of the shelter.
There are some definite guidelines for the prison training program. The first thing Atwell and her staff look for are dogs with a good temperament. It is a must that they can get along with both dogs and people. They prefer dogs less than five years old and dogs are spayed or neutered before they go to the prison program.
It is required that the dogs be in the prison program for at least four weeks and the dogs stay in the cells with prisoners. MCI prisoners must go through an extensive training and an interview process to qualify as trainers. Atwell said it’s a popular program at the prison and there is a long wait list for prisoners who want to work with the dogs.
MCI staff said their dog program promotes positive behavior for the offenders. They are not permitted in the program with disciplinary issues. The dogs tend to relax the atmosphere. MCI’s dog program has operated for more than 20 years and has allowed for many dogs to be placed in stable loving environments. Offenders are carefully screened and take pride in what they do. The men are committed to the Dog Program and finding placements for abandoned dogs.
Dogs are taken from the shelter to the prison a couple times per month. When people apply for the adoption of these prison dogs they make an appointment at the prison and meet the dogs right there.
Atwell said there are two requirements for adopting dogs both from the shelter and from the prison. An application must be filled out at the shelter and people must meet with the dog before the adoption is final. Morrow County residents can take a dog home overnight to decide and be sure before they adopt.
The $150 adoption fee includes Heartworm test for dogs over six months, dog license, vaccinations, rabies vaccination, spay/neuter and pain injection after surgery. The prison is involved only in training the dogs. The shelter is in charge of all adoptions.
Dr. Martha Mooney is one of the three veterinarians in the county that serve the Morrow County Dog Shelter. She said that the staff members in the Morrow County shelter are both experienced and very caring.
“We have one of the very best dog wardens in the state and in the nation,” Mooney said. “People need to know that Morrow County is a ‘no kill’ shelter.”
Mooney said that a few years ago at the old shelter as many as six dogs were euthanized every week. She said that last year only four were euthanized for the whole year and Sarina agonized over every one. She said that people often fear that dogs will be euthanized when they go to the shelter and hesitate taking them there. They don’t have to worry about that in Morrow County.
Mooney said Sarina does her very best to see that all dogs are adopted and she uses many tools such as Facebook, Pet Finder and connections with rescue groups as well as shelters in surrounding counties.
“The prison program is wonderful,” Mooney said. “It benefits the prisoners and it helps keep the shelter more open since dogs are more adoptable that go through the prison training.”
For information about adopting a dog you can find the Morrow County Dog Shelter on Facebook or call 419-946-1747. Dog shelter hours are Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 11-3; closed Thursday; Saturday-Sunday 11-2. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. and email@example.com.